I run into a wide range of political viewpoints during my public appearances. Some folks are hardcore, right or left. Others identify as “establishment Republicans” or traditional Democrats.” But the most interesting — and infuriating — are those folks in the middle.
You know them by their disgust with both parties, a seemingly permanent state of affairs. They relish their self-described resistor ways, steering clear of the “Christian right” and the “progressive left.” Their internal governors invariably point them to the middle, to a supposedly safe place where they can express their dismay with the purists on both sides of the aisle.
Their favorite term is “compromise.” And they find it incomprehensible that this lofty goal is so difficult to achieve.
For them, the Senate’s recent $1 trillion infrastructure bill represents the holy grail, as nineteen Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues in the cause of (at least partially) repairing our transportation infrastructure.
But infrastructure may be the only policy win for moderates in this Congress. Any more controversial issue stands little chance of bipartisan cooperation.
Still, it is too easy to attribute the present dysfunctional state of affairs to “Rs” vs. “Ds.” Political parties in free democracies have always fought (often harshly) over policy differences. It is why we have elections.
The more immediate reason why “getting to yes” is so difficult in this era has far more to do with a cancel culture-motivated assault on free speech and expression.
Indeed, what had begun as systemic repression of speech on campus has now metastasized into the wider culture. Today, a majority of Americans recognize that expression of opinion — especially conservative opinion — can lead to public shaming and worse.
Not a day goes by without a storyline about the suppression of free speech somewhere in the world. This is where we all find ourselves, captive to an ascendant screaming army of “doxxers” trained and indoctrinated in American institutions of higher learning. And offenders please note: Sincere apologies for past transgressions are neither requested nor accepted.
The army of righteous indignation reserves a special animus for those who knowingly engage in “un-woke” thought, speech and deed. And it is not just directed to those of us who fall on the conservative side, but any and all who resist progressivism’s newly hatched transformative language and “values.”
And so professional sports leagues and big business and Wall Street and Silicon Valley and Hollywood and the legacy media have teamed up to limit the speech and thought of the approximately 74 million voters who supported Donald J. Trump, boo kneeling football players, resist progressive school boards, demand border security, expose the terrible inconsistencies of the CDC and WHO, protest censorship and reject the Biden administration’s rationale for America’s grossly negligent exodus from Afghanistan.
But recent events reflect a growing dissatisfaction within flyover country. It seems middle America will no longer be so easily silenced when it comes to border chaos, big-city violence, indoctrination in lieu of teaching, ’70s-style inflation, and edicts issued by lockdown-happy authoritarian executives. You can bet this large (and growing) opposition is not ready to “move on” from our Afghanistan debacle either.
And so a displeased commonsense majority begins to re-engage, a necessary prerequisite if reasonable accommodation is to return to our public discourse. But the re-engagement is unlikely to please the aforementioned middle-of-the-roaders. Indeed, this resistance is more along the lines of “less compliance, more defiance” toward those who intend to limit their First Amendment freedoms.
Quite simply, these good folks see “less free” as too high a price to pay for social accommodation.
At its core, America should be defined by diverse opinions, individual liberties and a most unusual experiment in melting-pot assimilation. None of these fundamental values can be allowed to pass quickly into the night. They are worth fighting for, which means the time for accommodation has passed.
The bottom line: Cultural adjustment and mutual respect of the type that moderates so desperately desire does not work when one side believes it exclusively owns the moral high ground. Accordingly, our national discourse will remain dysfunctional (with an abundance of unconcealed resentment) until enough people figure this one out.
Free speech is one aspect of the culture war that we cannot afford to lose, the importance of just getting along notwithstanding.
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